Mark, My Words: let’s put the jeopardy back into fan participation

The fans who jump onstage to play with bands are always too good. Let's get some proper amateurs involved, argues our columnist Mark Beaumont

Tits everywhere. With just 10,000 signatures we can make the government at the very least have to consider letting us push The 1975 off a cliff. If Brexit was a band would it be nominated for a Mercury or a Brit Award? Morten Harket grows parsnips in his gumboots.

You see how easily, readers, crowd-sourced entertainment can go horribly wrong, horribly quickly. The previous paragraph is made up of the best responses I received when I asked my non-writer Facebook friends to suggest an opening sentence for this week’s column – a nonsensical tirade of filth, ‘80s pop surrealism and thinly veiled death threats towards The 1975. And that’s before you get to the unprintable scatological suggestions. Admittedly, it flows better than my regular columns and Bastille fans will probably find more in it to agree with, but had you paid 50 quid or so to read it you’d rightly be suing NME.com for everything it’s got – just an office ledger of what Noel Gallagher thinks about everything. After all, you’d have paid for a professional alternative culture gag monkey to help you pretend you’re doing a spreadsheet for five minutes, not a random bunch of reprobates chucking deranged non sequiturs at you like a team of Donald Trump speech writers.

So how come bands regularly take the same risk I did? Why would The Killers regularly invite a random fan onstage to play drums with them on ‘For Reasons Unknown’? Why would Dave Grohl or Billie Joe Armstrong hand their actual guitars to some guy in Kiss make-up who just made an anonymous request to play on a tune, or Coldplay entrust a whole stadium’s enjoyment of ‘Everglow’ to the hands of some German kid that’s never even smelt the inside of a patchouli-scented rehearsal room. You’ve seen them on YouTube videos called things like ‘Watch this fan ABSOLUTELY SHRED onstage!’, but should more realistically be called ‘This band’s bassist desperately needed a mid-gig shit’.

You don’t get this in other forms of entertainment. You don’t see Derek Jacobi peering out into the stalls, spotting a sign reading “PLEASE LET ME PLAY MACBETH TONIGHT!!!” and actually letting the bloke gabble away at Banquo’s ghost for the next five minutes. You wouldn’t get Ronnie O’Sullivan letting some Crucible sign-waggler take a match clinching shot on the pink. So why do major bands put their reputations on the line in front of the whole watching internet?

Simple answer: it’s a risk-free ‘moment’. Everyone feels like they’ve shared a once-in-a-lifetime experience of ultimate dream fulfilment with some bedroom Slash, it’s surefire profile-raising clickbait and, crucially, the fan is always going to be brilliant. In this scenario, those phone cameras they’re always complaining about stealing their sonic souls work as a form of protection – no-one’s going to barge down the front at a stadium gig waving a sign begging to play with the band and then be shit at it, knowing they’ll end up as web-wide troll fodder for the rest of their lives. Fucking up ‘This Is A Call’ onstage with Foo Fighters isn’t just something they can leave behind, a regretful teenage humiliation kept strictly between themselves, their goaders-on and the rest of the Milton Keynes Bowl. Oh no, they’re the new fucking Ikea monkey. All those iPhones are like thousands of laser sighted meme-snipers aimed right between the cocky schmuck’s eyeballs.

I say, let ‘em meme. The frisson of excitement we feel when a fan gets onstage with a band is largely down to the knowledge that they’re a plucky, unrehearsed rookie who’s basically learnt all of Matt Damon’s the lines from The Martian and turned up at Elon Musk’s house in a home-made Mars rover. I.e., they might be crap at this. So, to stop it all becoming as predictable as a Deep Purple drum solo, let’s put the jeopardy back into arena rock fan participation. Let’s see a couple of total amateurs waving ‘let me play’ signs down the front at the next Foo Fighters or Killers gig and, if they find themselves pulled onstage, ask the band how you turn the drumsticks on, or pick up a guitar and start blowing into one end of it. Shamelessly enjoy kicking the song to a bloody, tuneless pulp – own your shitness. Whatever instrument they hand you, why not smash it to bits without playing a note and crowd-surf off, arms aloft, directly into rock legend. Trust me, they’ve got a spare.

I, for one, will hail you as a have-a-go hero. Who knows, your subsequent internet notoriety might be the start of a glittering career in gig shafting, or you might meme so hard that the band will be forced to adopt you as an ironic mascot and make you a fixture of the set, to prove they’re the good sports they made themselves out to be. Consider the fable of Right Shark – he was the consummate professional, perfectly rehearsed and where is he now? Out on his sharky arse, trying to get a bit part in Sharknado 7, while his useless ex-stage partner is lauded onstage nightly on Katy Perry’s current tour as a fin-flapping pop icon. It happened for Left Shark, it can happen for you.